I asked and received a 35mm camera for my birthday in 1991. I thought it was the best thing ever! I immediately took a picture of our dog, Taffy, and forgot about the camera until the last day of school. I was in eighth grade. I have kept the book with the pictures from that first role of film ever since. The pictures are terrible; nearly all of them are back-lit, but they continue to represent my middle-school years to me as I grow older.
My mother used the camera in May of that year to take pictures of the "May Crowning" ceremony. I went to a Catholic K - 8 school in Woodbridge, VA. Every May, there was a ceremony during which a couple eight graders placed a crown of flowers on a statue of Mary (the mother of Jesus for those of you who aren't sure who I'm talking about). Janet and I had been voted May Queen and King by our classmates. There was no campaign - one morning the teacher just told everyone they were to vote. The impression I got was that we were to vote for whoever we thought was the most goody-two-shoes. I had never been voted anything before at all, and didn't know what my classmates thought of me (I figured they just thought I was a nerd). Apparently, they thought I was a good kid (and a nerd). Honestly, I was touched and surprised.
After that, I made sure to bring the camera and its remaining pictures to the last day of school. I took a few pictures of friends, the "cool" nun (there should always be one cool nun to remind you that not all nuns are hateful women whose faces break into a thousand angry pieces every time they attempt to smile), and then I handed it over to my mother again for the graduation ceremony.
Most of the pics from the ceremony are too far away to tell what's going on. If you squint, you can see me and Jen standing to the side of the entire class to sing our duet during the class song ("Wind Beneath My Wings" - she sang alto, I sang soprano. Don't worry, withing four months my voice had changed and I was belting church songs in my current baritone). But at the reception afterward, we managed to get a a picture of me and Mrs. Baily, the choir teacher and my voice coach.
Towards the end of seventh grade, Mrs. Baily, after what could only have been a frustrating attempt to teach our class to sing "What a Wonderful World," talked to me after the class and had me sing a few lines all by myself. The next thing I knew, I was practicing for a solo. After that, I took voice lessons from her for the next year or so. She taught me how to sing properly and how to sing in front of people. That year's worth of lessons, during which she guided me from a seventh grader who sang soprano to a high school freshman with a decent baritone has remained with me to this day. I've probably picked up a few bad habits since then. I haven't had a voice lesson since she moved away shortly after I started high school. Coffee and beer and city pollution have certainly diminished my vocal capacity in recent years. But I still love to sing. I thought I did a pretty good job at my grandmother's funeral last year. I have Mrs. Baily to thank for that. I have no idea where she is now. I'm certain she went on to draw out the giftedness of other young people. How could she not? It was part of who she was.